Hard questions; important answers

jail-bars-iconAs any reporter knows, it's hard to write a story about the beliefs of an individual, let alone the motives of a killer, if you are not able to talk to the person. In this case, we're talking about Abdulhakim Muhammad, the man charged with killing an American soldier at that Little Rock, Ark., U.S. Army recruiting station. Your GetReligionistas -- along with a few other people -- wanted to know more about the gunman's religious background, which seemed to be drawing little MSM attention in comparison with that of the anti-abortion activist who gunned down George Tiller.

Now the Associated Press has written the background story (in this case, it is on the New York Times website). Why? The answer to that one is pretty simple:

The Associated Press sent an interview request to Muhammad last week, before a judge ordered parties in the case to remain quiet. After Tuesday's interview, Muhammad's lawyer Jim Hensley sent an e-mail to the AP asking it to withhold his client's remarks.

AP declined to do that, thus we get to hear controversial answers to controversial questions -- in this case, straight from the mouth of the Muhammad. One thing is clear: Religion plays a major role in this story.

The lede sets the context:

A Muslim convert charged with fatally shooting an American soldier at a military recruiting center said ... that he doesn't consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified.

''I do feel I'm not guilty,'' Abdulhakim Muhammad told The Associated Press in a collect call from the Pulaski County jail. ''I don't think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.''

And later:

''Yes, I did tell the police upon my arrest that this was an act of retaliation, and not a reaction on the soldiers personally,'' Muhammad said. He called it ''a act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also a retaliation on U.S. military.''

In the interview, Muhammad also disputed his lawyer's claim that he had been ''radicalized'' in a Yemeni prison and said fellow prisoners that some call terrorists were actually ''very good Muslim brothers.'' He also said he didn't specifically plan the shootings that morning. ...

Muhammad, 23, said he wanted revenge for claims that American military personnel had desecrated copies of the Quran and killed or raped Muslims. ''For this reason, no Muslim, male or female, sane or insane, little, big, small, old can accept or tolerate,'' he said. He said the U.S. military would never treat Christians and their Scriptures in the same manner.

''U.S. soldiers are killing innocent Muslim men and women. We believe that we have to strike back. We believe in eye for an eye. We don't believe in turning the other cheek,'' he said.

Now there are more details, including more evidence of a clash between the gunman and his lawyer over the circumstances of his conversion and, specifically, whether he had been tortured while in that Yemeni prison.

But here is another crucial point. This is one man. One convert. One Muslim.

It's clear that the AP is looking for connections to other people, and it also seems that the leaders at the local mosque are cooperating with investigators. The faithful there say that Muhammad -- who was relatively new in town -- was not active in their congregation.

So we have answers to some questions, but not all. This is what journalism does -- it is a process. Reporters need to keep asking questions about this shooting and the Tiller shooting. That's how readers get new information. Right?

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